GruppeM Racing’s Hunter Abbott and Maxi Buhk claimed victory in Blancpain GT Series Asia’s second race at Chang International Circuit earlier today to top a weekend of highs and lows for the #999 crew.
Their Mercedes-AMG GT3 finished 11.1s seconds clear of Audi Hong Kong’s Silver Cup class winners Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong, who overcame a seven-second pitstop success penalty to lift their second overall runners-up trophy of the weekend, while a spirited late race charge from Mitch Gilbert earned him and OD Racing co-driver Aditya Patel third overall.
CMRT Eurasia’s Kenneth Lim and James Cai won a race of attrition to scoop Am Cup honours, while Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Jean Marc Merlin and Frank Yu scored a dominant GT4 class victory.
An opening lap accident not only triggered an early Safety Car period but also removed four potential victory candidates from the 60-minute race. Alex Yoong, yesterday’s winner Rui Aguas, Davide Rizzo and Martin Rump were running inside the top-seven as they approached Turn 5 before a racing incident resulted in all four ending their afternoon in the gravel.
The resulting Safety Car period lasted four laps before J-Fly by Absolute Racing’s pole-sitter Alessio Picariello made the perfect restart to edge clear of Buhk in second. The pair soon gapped Max Wiser’s Spirit of Race Ferrari before engaging in a game of cat and mouse throughout the opening stint. Never more than three seconds apart, they eventually pitted together just before the 10-minute window ended and handed over to their respective co-drivers, Jeffrey Lee and Abbott.
The race off pit road ended as it had begun, with Lee’s Audi just over two seconds clear of its pursuer. Abbott was soon up to speed, though, and made short work of reeling in and passing the R8 LMS GT3 before setting off towards a comfortable victory. It capped a weekend of mixed emotions for Buhk and Abbott after the latter’s practice accident resulted in the car being hastily rebuilt with parts taken from the sister #888 entry. Second in yesterday’s opening race then became sixth in the final classification as punishment for making avoidable contact with Gilbert’s Audi.
Meanwhile, Lee was left to defend his second position from Jiang Xin, who’d replaced Wiser in the Spirit of Race Ferrari. He rapidly closed in on the Audi only for a mistake on his first passing attempt to drop the 488 four seconds further back. By the time he’d bridged the gap Marchy Lee and Mitch Gilbert had made it a four-way battle, which in the space of just one lap resulted in Jeffrey Lee slipping from second to fifth.
While the J-Fly by Absolute Racing car dropped back, Jiang, Lee and Gilbert continued to squabble over the final podium places as the minutes ticked away. Lee soon muscled his way past the Ferrari only for Gilbert to do likewise at the start of the final lap and then set his sights on the Hong Kong driver ahead. But Lee held firm to cross the line 0.6s clear of the chasing Audi and another second ahead of Jiang.
Jeffrey Lee took the chequered flag fifth ahead of Aidan Read’s FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini, which made rapid progress during the second stint after co-driver Alberto Di Folco pitted from ninth. Carlo van Dam somehow survived the opening lap accident unscathed before settling into a strong fourth. And his Singha Motorsport Team Thailand co-driver Voravud Bhirombhakdi ultimately brought their Ferrari 458 home seventh after battling against a strong Silver Cup contingent throughout the second stint.
Jules Szymkowiak and Tim Sugden started 20th after their car was cannibalised ahead of Saturday’s qualifying session to repair GruppeM’s second Mercedes-AMG, but produced a strong performance to finish eighth overall. Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Darryl O’Young also looked racey after the pitstops en route to ninth ahead of Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak and Maxime Jousse’s est cola Thailand Porsche, which rounded out the points-paying positions.
Two of Am Cup’s three crews fell by the wayside, leaving the door open for CMRT Eurasia’s Cai and Lim to claim a maiden Blancpain GT Series Asia class victory aboard their Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3.
And in GT4, Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Frank Yu and Jean Marc Merlin made amends for yesterday’s disappointment by running out comfortable winners in the GT4 category. Yu started fourth but was soon leading the class before handing over to his French co-driver, who pulled clear of the EKS Motorsports entry shared by Byron Tong and Eric Lo over the second half of the race.
All of that leaves Abbott top of the overall GT3 standings by just two points from Lee and Thong, while early leaders Gilbert and Patel drop to third, albeit only five points behind Abbott.
Hunter Abbott, #999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “We’ve had a weekend of real ups and downs. In FP2 I had a crash, which ended up being quite a big one. But a lack of spare parts meant we were unable to fix the car. #888’s crew were unbelievable in letting us take some bits from theirs in time for qualifying, which went well. Coming through to second was great but obviously we got a penalty post-race that knocked us back to sixth, which I thought was a racing incident but hay-ho, that’s life. And today we managed to take a win overall. Once I got past Jeffrey [Lee] and had built a gap I just focused on remaining consistent and drove it home.”
Mitch Gilbert, #86 OD Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3: “I was hoping to be quicker today but it was more difficult than both Aditya [Patel] and I expected. When I came out behind Marchy [Lee] I spent a few laps feeling frustrated - we were expecting to jump him and Shaun [Thong] with their pitstop penalty. Then I saw some of the Am drivers didn’t have the same pace and were fighting, so knew that was my opportunity. Marchy and I made the most of that and we’ve come away with another podium. Much better than yesterday, which was a shocker!”
Kenneth Lim, #69 CMRT Eurasia Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3: “I would say we were a little bit lucky at the start. I didn’t make a good getaway so was actually nowhere near what went on, which gave us a chance. We’ve had an engine problem all weekend, which has compromised our lap times. But we’ll work on that before Suzuka and see what we can do there.”
Frank Yu, #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR: “It wasn’t easy at all! I started from P4, all the way at the back, but I was soon in the lead before the Safety Car. I didn’t want to push the car too much because of the electrical problems we’d encountered all day yesterday - I just tried to manage the gap and build an advantage for Jean Marc [Merlin]. He did a very, very good job and I think victory was well deserved today after missing out yesterday.”
Re-live today’s race as-live on Blancpain GT Series Asia’s Facebook page and website, as well as SRO’s GT World Youtube channel.